Scenes from the City: Janice Hisle
Writing and photography by Abby McGuire.
I am early again, biting my nails and washing my nerves down with iced coffee. There is a fly circling my table and pausing on the window after each lap. As I watch it scurry across the glass, I wonder if this fly on the wall really holds secrets.
Through the same window, I see Janice Hisle walking towards the door. This is our first meeting, and I cannot describe the butterflies I had to contain just thinking about interviewing a truly experienced writer.
It all started with me being nosey enough to listen in on a conversation about a newly published book and asking a friend of Janice’s to write down any information she had on a paper bag. Printed on the bag was a Trader Joe’s logo and scribbles spelling out the name of the book: Submerged: Ryan Widmer, his drowned bride and the justice system.
Now she’s across from me, green eyes beaming. As she begins to converse with me, I silently thank the beautiful mess that is the internet for making something of my grocery store scribbles.
Her immediate intensity is infectious because it comes from a place of passion and hard work. Janice spent 27 years covering various news outlets, and now she has published her first book. She melts into herself as she describes her childhood dream of writing a book coming true.
Janice grew up in northeastern Ohio. When her mother read to her as a child, tracing the lines with her finger, Janice picked up on every word. Her love for the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer faded with age as she grew fond of mystery series like The Hardy Boys and dreamed of writing a book of her own.
As she grew up, she watched her friends settle down and become mothers. She was supposed to meet a nice guy and get married, too, but we both laugh about a guy having to catch us first. In the end, she did meet someone: a husband that pushed her to pursue her dreams.
It is impossible to be objective, so I let myself be human.
And pursue dreams, she did, spending 15 years as a journalist for The Cincinnati Enquirer. Before she landed there, she carved her way down the state, covering stories in other cities and paying her dues. She lets me in on what it has been like as a female journalist, laughing off crude comments and showing her subjects she means business.
It seems like an obvious topic to touch on, being a woman in this sort of career. She looks out the window to collect her thoughts before telling me more about her struggles. It wasn’t always dealing with a northeast Ohio mayor looking her up and down; it was dealing with layoffs after the rise of technological advances in the industry, and being the only person left to cover multiple counties without the time or space to give them justice.
Janice’s confidence was hard-earned. Her engagement with the communities she informed led her down a path of self-discovery. Writing is an individual process, she tells me, and I couldn’t agree more. Although she may be interacting with others, she goes inside herself to tell their stories. I marvel at the idea of writing the stories of those who have committed crimes, as she did once.
Submerged was sparked by the Ryan Widmer case back in 2008. After 10 years of covering three trials, gathering countless interviews and amassing pages of notes, Janice was enveloped in a story she couldn’t let go. She’d seen how the case affected the general public. The couple was relatable and she knew there was more of the story to be told. The restrictions put on media coverage didn’t let the whole story unravel. She was the fly on the wall, seeing humanity and releasing the story for Cincinnati to read.
She realizes that even after 10 years and her first book, her Kent State professor’s words still ring true: You may never know the Truth.
But that isn’t enough to spite her. Her dedication compels me to ask how she could handle the emotions of such trauma, to which she responds: It is impossible to be objective, so I let myself be human.
She asks me questions about my questions, and I shiver knowing that perhaps she is cracking my shell. I am humbled and in awe of such a confident woman. She takes a call and as I sit alone, my mind is swimming with questions. She truly has seen it all; how can I ever ask enough questions?
Janice reminds me of the badass reporters in movies. With sharp ease, she engages in a conversation with me about voice. She finally feels that the handcuffs of media restriction have been removed, and she can express memories and stories with colorful description once again. Her attentiveness toward giving everyone a voice has given her the opportunity to finally lay out a story that has affected so many people locally and nationally.
She has spent years setting aside her bias to share the facts, and since leaving The Enquirer in 2013, she is flourishing as she pursues freelancing and fitness training. Her goal to enlighten the minds of others has been and is still being fulfilled, in my eyes; she tears up speaking about the humanity we all radiate and must recognize.
As she prepares to leave, she scribbles words to me in a fresh copy of her book and I swat the same fly away for the millionth time, excited to dive into an 18 month project she has now published. She jokes about how it’s like carrying a child for two terms, but she would do it over gladly. Everyone deserves a voice, and she gave this story an opportunity to speak for itself with the detail it deserves.
Have a woman in mind that Abby should chat with? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the meantime, check out past Scenes from the City columns and stay tuned for more of the city's hidden gems on the first Saturday of every month.